Style Of Opponent Drastically Different With Purdue
March 22, 2000
ALBUQUERQUE, N.M. - The Gonzaga - "Don't Call Us Cinderella" - Bulldogs handled the lightning quickness and intense pressure of Louisville and St. John's.
Now they must deal with the bruising style of sixth-seeded Purdue on Thursday night if they are to make their second consecutive appearance in the NCAA West Regional final and perhaps become the first No. 10 seed to advance to the Final Four.
The 'Zags (26-8) say they aren't afraid to get rough.
"This crew loves to tee it up and play physical," Bulldogs coach Mark Few said. "They're as physical a team as we've had in Gonzaga in quite awhile. So they don't mind that. Some of them kind of relish in that. Casey Calvary certainly does."
The 6-foot-8 Calvary and 6-foot-11 Australian center Axel Dench, whose play has improved dramatically in recent weeks, know what they're up against.
"My role in tomorrow night's game is going to be to play as hard as Brian Cardinal and Greg McQuay. They're absolute warriors inside," Dench said. "Brian Cardinal, I heard the quote that he's the self-proclaimed most hated man in his conference. That shows just what he can do to get into people's heads. I've just got to be patient and slow down and not make any stupid plays or rushed shots and just try to match his physical aspect."
Cardinal acknowledges his image.
"I'm hated everywhere I go," he said. But he said all he does is whatever is necessary to win.
"Well, we love him," Purdue's Mike Robinson said, "so we really don't care if anybody hates him or not, as long as he's on our side. Brian's one of those players that you love to have on your team and you hate to play against. He may do things to push some people's buttons and he plays hard. He gives his body up for our team, and we really appreciate that."
Gonzaga point guard Matt Santangelo said his team can't allow the game to degenerate into a slugfest, though.
"We don't want to get into a grind-out game for 40 minutes with these guys, because it plays in their favor," he said. "We've got to get the tempo moving a little bit and then battle with them on the boards to even stay in this one."
The Boilermakers (23-9), who survived close games against Dayton and Oklahoma in the first two rounds, will have to live up to their reputation as one of the best perimeter defensive teams in the country because all five Gonzaga starters can score from 3-point range.
Gene Keady has his team in the round of 16 for the third consecutive year and the fifth time in his 20 seasons at Purdue, but he's never made it to the Final Four.
"Coach Keady's a great coach and I think that's in the back of everybody's mind that we'd like to get him to the Final Four and give him that missing piece to the puzzle," Cardinal said.
This squad, competing in a region in which the top three seeds have been eliminated, might be the one that finally gets him there.
"This is probably the most unusual group we've had there in 20 years in that not many people expected them to go this far," Keady said. "They probably have taken more charges than any team we've had, without working on it much. ... They've just been special in that they want to do well. They want to go a long way."
So do the 'Zags, who have grown weary of hearing about what a fairy tale team they are. So don't even mention that C-word.
"In every single article that you read there will be Cinderella in there somewhere," Dench said. "Some people like it, but I personally just can't stand the word. We've just gone through so much. We've gone through the baptism of fire to get where we are, and yet people are still putting it down to a fluke and a one-time thing."
This is, after all, a team that's 5-1 the past two years in the NCAA tournament, with the only loss a close one to eventual national champion Connecticut in last year's regional final. This little Jesuit school has added a basketball team that's become America's darling to its previous, rather limited heritage as the alma mater of John Stockton and Bing Crosby.
"I just think it's pretty hard now to call this program or call this particular group of guys Cinderella when they advanced within basically 30 seconds of the Final Four last year and now here they are in the Sweet 16 again," Few said. "Somebody told me that the teams that advanced to the Elite Eight last year and advanced to the Sweet 16 this year are Michigan State, Gonzaga and Duke, so that's heady company right there. I'd like to trade recruiting budgets with them."
By BOB BAUM
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